Former host Sir Michael Parkinson and David Beckham who was the show's latest guest
Since it was first broadcast on January 29, 1942, there have been more than 3,000 shows but not quite as many castaways as a number of people have been on it more than once.
The premise of the programme is simple: guests marooned on an imaginary island are asked to choose their eight favourite records, a luxury item and a book, with the Bible and the complete works of William Shakespeare already included.
Here are some of the defining moments from the show’s long history:
● The first castaway was music hall artist Vic Oliver, the son-in-law of prime minister Sir Winston Churchill. The first record Oliver chose was Chopin’s Etude No 12 in C Minor.
● The programme was the brainchild of Roy Plomley who hosted 1,791 editions until his death in 1985. On two occasions, in 1942 and 1958, Plomley was a guest himself. Other presenters have been Michael Parkinson (1985-88), Sue Lawley 1988-2006) and Kirsty Young (2006-to date)
Desert Island Discs presenter Kirsty Young and Sir David Attenborough
● Sir John Major is the only serving British prime minister to have been a castaway, for a special 50th anniversary edition in 1992. Among his musical picks were George Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue and The Happening by Diana Ross And The Supremes.
● The signature tune of Desert Island Discs, By A Sleepy Lagoon, was composed by Eric Coates in 1930. The cries of seagulls were later added to the music but sharp-eared listeners have pointed out that the cries are those of herring gulls, which would not have been heard on a tropical island.
● Zany comic Spike Milligan chose as his luxury item a Barclaycard. “While I’m there I’m saving money!” he joked. His book choice was Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. “What’s it about?” asked Plomley. “About 300 pages,” Milligan replied.
Lady Diana Mosley was one of the most controversial interviewees
● Actor John Le Mesurier who played Sergeant Wilson in Dad’s Army, and who was known to like a drink, chose as his luxury item “a small distillery”.
● One of the most controversial interviewees, in December 1989, was Lady Diana Mosley, widow of Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists. Asked if she regretted her friendship with Adolf Hitler she replied: “I can’t regret that. It was so interesting and fascinating.” Among her record choices was the 1967 pop classic A Whiter Shade Of Pale by Procol Harum.
● Sir Harry Whitlohn, billed as an 88-year-old “mountaineer, mystic and spy” and the only man living who had collaborated with Brahms, was a guest in 1963. He chose as his luxury item a mountain from his native Liechtenstein. Guests who were wondering why they had not heard of the remarkable Sir Harry before should have noted the date: April 1. Yes, it was an April Fool.
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The wedding of Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon in 1960 in London
● The most senior member of the Royal Family to be a castaway was Princess Margaret in 1981. The Queen’s sister named Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake as her favourite piece of music and said she would dance to it, adding: “With no one else looking I’d probably be rather beautiful.”
● The castaway for the 1,000th edition of the programme in 1969 was Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, who revealed the wartime disagreements he’d had with Winston Churchill. “I don’t mind telling you that when I was fighting the battle of El Alamein, he wanted me to attack Rommel in September,” he said. Monty chose his own work The History Of Warfare as his book.
● There was no false modesty from soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf who chose seven of her own recordings in 1958. In 1979 pianist Dame Moura Lympany went one better by choosing all of her own recordings.
Prime Minister Theresa May was a castaway in November 2014
● Sir David Attenborough and comedian Arthur Askey hold the record for the most interviews, having been castaways four times each. In 1968 Askey chose as his luxury item a set of golf clubs and balls and for his book a golf instruction manual.
● Fifty-eight per cent of records chosen in Desert Island’s first year were classical. But by 2016-17 the percentage had dropped to 21 per cent with pop music now the most popular category on 28 per cent. The Beatles are the most requested pop group, with Yesterday the most popular song.
● Among those who have refused to go on the programme are Lord Olivier, Sir Mick Jagger, Prince Charles and playwright George Bernard Shaw, who returned Plomley’s invitation letter with a terse note, which said: “No. Too busy with more important things, G.B.S.”
● One of the most extraordinary interviews was with actress Margaret Rutherford, later famous for playing Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, in 1951. Rutherford said that if she were marooned on a desert island she would become a mermaid and said that she had already had conversations with mermaids, who had told her that the coral reefs and caves beneath the sea were “quite indescribably beautiful”.
● Prime Minister Theresa May was a castaway in November 2014. Her first record choice was Walk Like A Man from the musical Jersey Boys.
● George Formby, a guest in 1951, chose as his luxury item his first ukulele, the one he played while courting his wife. “It would keep my spirits up and I might even be able to find a monkey who liked listening to it,” he said.
Actor George Clooney chose Leo Tolstoy’s War And Peace as his book
● In the 1970s Plomley began to interview a guest whom he thought was writer Alistair MacLean. But the wrong Alistair MacLean had been booked. The interview with the head of Ontario’s European tourist bureau was never broadcast.
● Comedian Les Dawson, a castaway in 1978, told how he learnt to play the piano as a child. “My father used to help me to keep time by banging the lid up and down on my fingers,” he said. Asked if he could cope with the loneliness of being on a desert island, Dawson replied: “I think so. I’ve played enough clubs to be lonely in.”
● A guest in August 1956, actor Dennis Price chose as his book a collection of cartoons by Giles of the Daily Express.
● Actress Dame Diana Rigg showed her practical side in 1970 by requesting a book that would give her “lessons on every known language under the sun because I would like to be able to converse with whoever stepped on this island and rescued me, whether he was Russian or Chinese or Danish,” she told Plomley.
Kirsty Young took over as presenter of the show in 2006
● In common with many other castaways actor George Clooney chose Leo Tolstoy’s War And Peace as his book… but only because he thought the pages would be useful as toilet paper.
● In 1992 Lady Soames, the only surviving child of Sir Winston Churchill, selected as her luxury item “a supply of fine Havana cigars in a humidor and a box of matches”. Her father would have approved.
● One of the prickliest guests was film director Otto Preminger, interviewed in 1980. When asked by Plomley if he could build a hut, Preminger replied: “Build a hut? You must be out of your mind. Can you build a hut?” Preminger also made unflattering references to Plomley’s appearance, referring to his host’s “red face” and bald head.
● Royal Navy test pilot, 95-yearold Eric “Winkle” Brown, who was interviewed for the 3,000th edition in 2014, is thought to be the oldest castaway. He chose his 12 flight log books as his luxury item.
Desert Island Discs, Sunday 11am, BBC Radio 4